Often the origin tale of a developer can be just as interesting as the games they develop. Long time readers on here will know that I’ve got a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games who’ve been responsible for publishing some of the best pixel-art adventure games in the last couple years but they’re also a developer themselves having released numerous titles previously. Their first ever game was called The Shivah, initially done as a entry into a monthly game contest, but quickly became their first commercial title. I unfortunately never even heard of it at the time, most likely because I was deep in the throws of my World of Warcraft addiction at the time, but they’ve since remastered it and released it as The Shivah: Kosher Edition and they provided me with a copy for review.
You play as Russell Stone the lone rabbi of a small synagogue in New York city. It’s not the easiest of times for Rabbi Stone as his congregation has been steadily shrinking and the bills keep piling up. Just when he was about to pack everything in he gets a knock at the door: the police want to see him about something. As it turns out a former member of his congregation left him a large sum of money in his will, more than enough to keep the synagogue open. Puzzled as to why this strange windfall has come his way rabbi Stone sets out to find out the reasons as to why this money was left to him and the circumstances in which came.
Whilst I never played the previous version looking through the various guides and reviews of the previous edition of The Shivah shows that a lot of work has gone into revamping the visuals with every aspect being redone. The difference is quite stark with every scene now having a lot more detail, fidelity and lighting effects. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect from every game Wadjet Eye publishes and I’m glad that their in house titles are no different.
The Shivah is an adventure game where you’ll spend the majority of your time clicking on things, reading through text and figuring out where to go next in order to progress the story. Whilst I can’t comment on its previous incarnation it does feel like this was the part was left pretty much as is as the mechanics are quite simple and barring a couple of the challenges you’re not likely to get stuck at any one position for long. I think this is telling of its origins as an entry to a game challenge contest as many games done in a similar fashion eschew elaborate puzzles due to the constrained development time.
Whilst there’s an inventory system it’s thankfully kept to the bare minimum, mostly serving as another point of reference for solving the other puzzles. I must admit that playing The Shivah I felt like I’d been spoiled by more recently releases in the genre with many implementing a clue system to record pertinent details. The Shivah has this for a few things but there were a couple times where I found myself forgetting a name and having to scramble around the game looking for it again. The notable lack of feedback for some turning points, like in other games where a clue being added to your journal was a good indicator that you could progress, can also leave you wondering what else you need to do. Thankfully most of the time you can get past that by simply travelling to another location but I did manage to get myself caught up in my own head a couple times.
The story is interesting, running you through the trials and tribulations that religions face in the modern day and how the rigorously devout deal with them. Whilst I was a little sceptical as to it being of any interest to me the way The Shivah deals with people compromising on their ideals and how others react to that is quite intriguing. I might understand the plight of the modern day Jew but I’m very familiar with people holding one stance publicly yet doing something else privately and the way The Shivah deals with such hypocrisy has a very real feeling about it.
With it being a rather short game though it’s hard to deeply empathize with any of the characters and whilst some of the scenes can be confronting on an emotional level it certainly didn’t elicit emotions of the same level as say To The Moon (although to be fair few do). The Shivah does get a lot of bonus points for having a story that changes depending on your actions though as how you resolve the situation will greatly depend on how you conduct yourself. Thankfully getting all of them isn’t too difficult so there’s no need to keep a treasure trove of saves lying around and the auto-save function ensures that you’ll have all the chances you need to get the ending you want.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is a short but sweet experience from Wadjet Eye games, capturing the essence of what led to the publisher’s creation and showing how remastered games in this genre should be done. It’s a simple title, one that’s aptly suited to the iOS platform that this version is available on, and whilst the replay value isn’t high if you’re a fan of Wadjet Eye style games then you’ll definitely enjoy The Shivah.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is available on PC and iOS right now for $4.99 and $1.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours total play time and 60% of the achievements unlocked. A copy of this game was provided to The Refined Geek for the purposes of reviewing.
I remember sitting in one of my university classes, it was Game Programming Techniques which I was giddy with excitement to be in, and being proposed a simple yet poignant question: how many of you have tried to code a game? The room was filled with students who had spent much of their past few years at university coding but out of the dozens of people there only a few raised their hands. The answer as to why was the same for all of us, we simply did not know how to go about it. Fast forward to today and thanks to tools like GameMaker and Unity it’s possible for anyone, even non-coders, to be able to create a production quality title. Lilly Looking Through is a great example of how these tools enable people to create, without the necessary background in flipping bits.
Lilly is just like any other ordinary kid, letting her curiosity run wild as she ventures around her own little world. One day though something strange catches her eye, a piece of cloth that appears to move with a life of its own. However she can never seem to get close to it, the devious strip of cloth always flitting away at the last possible second. Then suddenly the cloth seemingly takes a dark turn, snatching up Lilly’s brother Ro and whisking him away faster than Lilly can run. What follows is Lilly’s journey to get her brother back, taking her through all sorts of wonderful and whimsical worlds.
Lilly Looking Through has a decidedly Dinsey-esque feeling about it, with the backgrounds all being lovingly hand drawn. It reminded me of the many similar types of games I used to play as a kid like The Magic School Bus and Mario is Missing, albeit with the additional twist of all the animation being done using 3D models. The developers behind Lilly Looking Through should be commended for blending the two elements seamlessly as traditionally it’s usually very obvious where the distinction lies, something that I find quite distracting. The background music is also quite enjoyable, being a great backdrop to the sumptuous visuals.
At its core Lilly Looking Through is a 2.5D point and click adventure game albeit without the usual trimmings of an inventory system and the requisite try this item with every other item to see if you can progress. This is quite typical of the indie scene where general mechanics are left to one side in favour of other things and, in all honesty, it’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t have a cornucopia of things to do in it. Thus the majority of your time in Lilly Looking Through will be spent solving puzzles and drinking in the scenery you find yourself in.
The one twist in Lilly Looking Through’s puzzle mechanics is the use of her goggles you pick up early in the game. These allow you to switch between two different times in the same world, allowing you to accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible. It’s by no means an unique or innovative mechanic but it does do its job well by making you think about how to use the two different worlds effectively. The rest of the puzzles build off this mechanic, playing on the notion of time passing and setting up things accordingly.
For the most part the puzzles are challenging, encouraging you to look at the scenery around you and figure out how everything interacts in order to unlock the next section. Indeed my favourite puzzle of the lot (shown below) required you to initially play around to figure out what everything did and only then could you approach it scientifically. However the puzzles that rely on understanding colour theory are, to be blunt, unintuitive and just frustrating. I have a basic understanding of how colours mix together but I know that there’s a major difference between mixing paint and mixing light and trying to figure it out intuitively just doesn’t work. It would be ok if this was just a single puzzle but the last few all rely on the colour mixing mechanic.
The story is also pretty simplistic and whilst I’m not adverse to an absence of dialogue (indeed games like Kairo are a powerful experience) it did feel somewhat hollow. I think much of this stems from the fact that Lilly Looking Through is heavily focused on the visual aspect of the game, and in that respect it does well, however it’s just not enough to carry the game on its own. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s still a great little story, especially if I’m guessing right in that their target demographic tend towards the younger generation, but it really is the bare minimum to keep it moving forward.
Lilly Looking Through is a gorgeous little game, one that rewards the player for being inquisitive with a visual display that is quite impressive. The early puzzle mechanics are fun and enjoyable however the later stages that assume some knowledge of colour theory unfortunately let it down, leading to a frustrating experience that feels more like luck than anything else. Still I think it’s a great little game, one that is probably best played by your youngest relative while you watch from the sidelines.
Lilly Looking Through is available on PC and iOS right now for $9.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours total play time.
Telltale Games has a reputation for taking IP that’s either old or from another media and translating it into a new game experience in their very distinctive style. If I’m honest I had avoided many of their titles as whilst it was cool to see things like Sam and Max make a comeback I had long left adventure style games behind, preferring the more fast paced worlds that FPS and RTS offered. Still it was hard to ignore the fervour that surrounded their interpretation of The Walking Dead and my subsequent play through of it showed me that Telltale was able to deliver a deep and compelling story. So when I heard about The Wolf Among Us I was sold on it instantly as the brief taste that 400 Days had given me of the signature Telltale experience had left me wanting for so much more.
The days of the fables living in their own world has long since past and they now attempt to fit into the world of humans through a kind of magic called Glamour. This allows them to take on human form so that they can blend in with the wider world, enabling them to live out their lives in relative obscurity. You play as Big B Wolf (affectionately referred to as Bigby) charged with being the sheriff of the Fabletown community, keeping everyone in line and ensuring the safety of all the fables that have made the transition to the real world. However the magic of glamour doesn’t change past deeds and many old rivalries are still going strong. It was only a matter of time before everything started to take a turn for the worse although you’d never expect Bigby, even with his chequered past, to be at the centre of it.
The Wolf Among Us brings with it Telltale’s trademark style for transitioning comic books to the PC gaming medium, favouring a heavily stylized world that’s light on the graphics but heavy with detail. Every scene feels like a pane pulled straight from a comic book with the only thing missing being giant speech bubbles above all the characters. The art direction has improved quite a bit over The Walking dead with the lighting having an almost oil painting like effect on everything. It’s hard to describe but The Wolf Among Us definitely has a similar feel to other Telltale games but there’s an air of refinement about it that their previous titles lacked.
The main game mechanics remain largely the same from their previous titles with the majority of it taking the form of a point and click adventure that’s peppered with quick time events for the more action oriented scenes. Like the artwork it feels a little more refined than their previous titles with the mechanics having improved UIs that are a lot more responsive. Of course the level of game play in The Wolf Among Us is deliberately simple as the focus is heavily on the story rather than anything else which may frustrate some players. I personally enjoy it, especially after such heavily interactive titles like Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s definitely one of the more valid criticisms that are often levelled at Telltale games.
The dialogue system has seen a small change as now instead of the options being on top of each other they’re laid out as a bunch of squares and no longer begin to fade as the time runs out. The “say nothing” option also seems to be far more prevalent something which you can use to great comedic effect if you feel like doing so. These changes definitely make the options a lot easier to scan and choose between, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make a decision, and I’m not quite sure how to put it but the flow of dialogue definitely feels different to previous Telltale games. I like it and I’d be interested to see what long time Telltale fans think of the changes.
Whilst I think Telltale are probably the only company to do episodic content right this is the first time I’ve come in at the ground level for one of their IPs and, if I’m honest, it’s actually a little frustrating to start this early. Each episode is a bit sized chunk, on the order of 2 hours each, and whilst they’re quite entertaining in their own right I’m not the kind of person who likes to go back and revisit games for DLC and the like. I most likely will for The Wolf Among Us but it still feels like it’d be somewhat better to wait 5 months until all the episodes are out and then binge on them over a weekend. This can be made up somewhat by the fact that multiple play throughs can be quite a rewarding experience with Telltale titles as the game can play out very differently depending on what seems like minor decisions.
I’m not familiar with the source material behind The Wolf Among Us so I can’t comment to how true to form it is (although I’m told The Walking Dead was essentially like for like) but the story is gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course that’d be all for nothing if the voice acting wasn’t up to scratch but the casting has been done exceptionally well with Bigby’s gravely voice fitting his character perfectly. I really can’t wait to see how it develops over the coming episodes as the first episode was action packed enough and the small teaser they give you at the end is almost cruel in how many questions it raises.
The Wolf Among Us continues Telltale’s success with translating IP material onto the video game medium with skill that few other game developers can match. The current instalment is more than enough to get you hooked into this new world, leaving you clawing at the walls for more that won’t be coming for another month. Whilst the simplistic game style won’t be for everyone the story more than makes up for this, providing an extremely rewarding experience for those who take the small amount of time to experience it. Whilst I’d probably recommend holding off until all the episodes are out it still stands on its own as a great experience, even if its a little short.
The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
Since my review of the original The Walking Dead from Telltale games I’ve found myself far more involved in the IP. I’ve watched all the TV episodes and whilst it isn’t my favorite show out there it still ranks up there as one of those shows that I’d say is recommended watching. Of course I understand that while they share the same source material the games are far more true to the originals and whilst I haven’t had the chance to read through them I can definitely attest to the incredible amount of character development that happens in The Walking Dead series. 400 Days is an episodic DLC for The Walking Dead, serving as an introduction for the story that will come with season 2. Now I’m not usually one for DLC but The Walking Dead stands out as one of the best episodic, story focused games out there which made this hard to pass up.
400 Days gives you a brief introduction into 5 different story lines that all within a short time frame of each other. They serve as the character’s origin stories, ostensibly the ones that will be used as a basis for season 2, and since you’re playing through them you have a certain amount of control over how their characters develop. All of them come with baggage, both from before the outbreak and after, and how you deal with that will determine how they play out in the future. This rings true to the rest of the series which was highly reactive the choices you made, even the ones you thought were of no consequence at the time.
Considering this is just a DLC it comes as no surprise that there’s been no dramatic changes to the art style or general game mechanics. It still feels very much like you’re playing a game that’s taking place in a comic book as style that works incredibly well, seemingly taking the idea of authenticity to its utmost conclusion. The voice acting has remained top notch as well with all the lines delivered with the expected emotion and gravity befitting the situation happening on screen. It shouldn’t be surprising really as this is essentially the 5th time they’ve done this and every time Telltale games have shown they can deliver.
Unlike the previous installments which followed Lee and Clementine’s quest to stay alive in a hostile world 400 days instead gives you the option of picking which story arc you’d like to investigate. Whilst I’m sure that many will do pretty much as I did, going from left to right, there’s no right or wrong way to play through them. They do intertwine however which means that it’s up to you to form part of the narrative through deducing the links, however they’re not exactly subtle so I don’t think anyone would miss them. Each of the stories are unique and provide you the opportunity to shape their character in some way and with a few cases you can (I suspect) radically change their behavior.
Mechanically it plays essentially the same as The Walking Dead did with the addition of a couple more mechanics that feel like they are there to test the waters for the next season. You’ve got your usual adventure game mechanics of clickable items which you can then interact with however since this is essentially just a bit of background story for each of the characters there’s really no puzzles to speak of. There’s a few challenges but the NPCs tell you exactly what to do so unless you deviate from that then there’s really nothing to threaten you. You could almost consider the mechanics unnecessary as they are as basic as you can get however I do appreciate them as they help to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous experience.
Thankfully it looks like Telltale has taken some of the lessons learned with previous releases and applied them to this one as my experience with 400 days was completely bug free. The worst thing that can happen in story focused games like this is game issues breaking immersion and The Walking Dead had enough of them that I had a couple occasions where I just stopped playing because of it. Hopefully this trouble free experience translates well onto season 2 as that was probably the only negative thing I can remember about The Walking Dead.
Of course that’s all second to the incredibly confronting stories that 400 Days manages to tell in its short play time. Every single one of the story lines will force you to make a hard decision, some a choice between two that neither of which you can completely agree with. Some of the things you’ll do thinking they were the right thing to do, or were simply the only way you could react given the situation, will put you on a path that you don’t agree with. How you deal with that will impact on how the character reacts later down the track and, if the foreboding is anything to go by, how the story of season 2 shapes itself.
400 days fits right in with the rest of The Walking Dead series, providing a little taste of what’s to come in season 2 and giving you the opportunity to shape the story before it starts. If you enjoyed the previous series then you’re sure to like 400 days as the same game play and story telling is there, it’s just the people you’ll be following is different. If you haven’t played any of them then I’d strongly recommend you do as they’re one of the stand out story first titles in recent memory and if 400 days is anything to go by season 2 will continue on with that tradition.
The Walking Dead: 400 days is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $4.99 on all platforms. Total game time was 2.5 hours with 88% of the achievements unlocked.
It really is quite staggering to see how far games have come since I first started playing them nearly 3 decades ago. Even more surprising is how each style of game still has a place in the market today, even those that forego all modern trimmings in favour of recreating those early experiences. Last year saw a bevy of such titles cross my path and I was really quite surprised just how enjoyable revisiting that period of gaming could be. When I first read about Evoland it seemed like an intriguing idea as it would take you through the history of adventure games whilst also telling its own story.
Evoland starts out as a classic Legend of Zelda clone, all the way down to the pixely graphics and limited colour pallette. However as you move around and start finding chests of loot you’re not greeted by additional items to help you on your journey. No instead you will typically get an upgrade to your game experience like the addition of music, better colours and, my personal favourite, extra dimensions. These all build upon each other so as you progress through Evoland it becomes an ever increasingly varied game, one that aptly captures the essence of nearly all adventure games that have come before it.
Considering that Evoland’s primary goal is to take you through the history of adventure games the art style varies wildly from flat, 2D pixel art right up to full 3D environments that are reminiscent of titles like The Longest Journey. The pixelart is quite good, especially after a couple pallette upgrades, but the 3D feels incredibly rudimentary by comparison. It’s somewhat in line with the rest of the game as nothing about Evoland is terribly complicated so it all kind of fits together, at least enough to carry the overall thrust of the game forward.
In the beginning Evoland is your run of the mill, top down 2D adventure game complete with enemies that run around randomly and you equipped with only a sword with which to dispatch them. It plays exactly like the old Zelda games as well as you’re left to run around the environment looking for the next puzzle that’s blocking your progression. You can also, if you’re so inclined, explore even further to find all the collectibles that are scattered around the map although there’s little reason to do so outside of wanting to complete all the achievements.
The more you play Evoland the complex and nuanced it becomes, something you’ll be acutely aware of because it’ll tell you every time you unlock another game mechanic with an alert plastered across the bottom of the screen. Some of them have obvious and immediate impacts on the way the game plays, like the introduction of a world map which introduces random turn based combat encounters ala Final Fantasy, and others are more subtle like the “Something happened somewhere” alert that indicates you triggered an off screen event.
Initially the introduction of new elements is quite fun as it’s like a whole new game has been opened up for you. However due to the rudimentary nature of Evoland’s many different aspects they quickly start to descend into tedium. The random turn based encounters are probably the best example of this as you can’t walk for more than 10 seconds without one of them occurring. After a while these don’t take too long to resolve but the lack of variety in these encounters means that after the 3rd or 4th fight you’ve seen all the enemies Evoland has to offer and you’re essentially just grinding away XP and glis (a nod to Final Fantasy’s Gil system) which only has a limited amount of utility.
Indeed whilst Evoland is a cohesive game on the surface the actual mechanics of it aren’t exactly uniform across every new iteration. Most dungeons have been designed with a specific idea in mind and whilst some of the abilities will transfer across (like the upgraded combo sword attack) most of them won’t. So whilst one dungeon might give you a health orb rather than the 3 hearts system you’ll likely find that once you go anywhere else the health system du jour is back again. They also all seem to have separate internal values as well as half health in the turn based combat system doesn’t seem to translate to 1.5 hearts in the dungeon system.
Realistically Evoland is more like 4 distinct games that are loosely tied together by common elements. Viewed like this I’m more inclined to overlook the faults of them not completely interacting with each other. Indeed since the overall thrust of the game is more to take you through the evolution of adventure games rather than provide an in depth experience in each successive iteration of them I’d be missing the point if I judged it on the merits of the individual section’s gameplay. I guess what I’m getting at is if you’re looking for a solid gameplay experience you’re likely to come up short with Evoland, but that’s not the reason you’d play it.
There is some semblance of a story which really only sees development during the last couple sections. It might have been because I named my characters Dudeface, Butts and Mouman respectively but I didn’t feel any attachment to them nor any real drive to move the story forward apart from the desire to see which game mechanic would be unlocked next. The final boss battle was pretty cool though with the combination of music and larger than life boss aptly capturing the essence of those same encounters in games of yore.
Evoland serves as a great history book, detailing the many transitions that adventure games have undergone during the years. As a game it’s nothing spectacular but the essence of each era of adventure games is captured within each upgrade of the Evoland’s mechanics. There’s a very specific audience in mind for Evoland and it’s for people like me who grew up on all the titles that inspired it. So if you find yourself pining for the golden age of gaming or you’d just like take a trip down memory lane then Evoland is the game for you.
Evoland is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2 hours with ~83% completion and 34% of the achievements unlocked.
Much to the chagrin of many of my friends I haven’t really got into the whole Walking Dead craze that seemed to sweep the Internet over the past couple years, mostly because my wife went ahead and started watching them without me. Couple that with the fact that I’m a terrible reader (I only seem to find time for it on long haul flights) I have also given the comics on which the whole craze is based a miss. I tell you this because The Walking Dead game seemed to attract just as much fandom as the IP’s other incarnations but that was most certainly not the reason I decided to play it. Instead I had heard that Telltale Games had done well with this particular franchise and since their treatment of Sam & Max was pretty decent I figured the hype was probably well earned.
The Walking Dead takes place in modern day America with you playing as Lee Everett, a university professor who’s been recently convicted of killing his wife’s lover and is on his way to jail. On the way however the police car you’re in hits an unidentified person sending the car tumbling over the embankment and leaving you trapped in the car. After looking around it’s clear that something is amiss with the officer who was driving you rising from the dead and attempting to attack you. Things only seem to get worse from here on out as you struggle to survive and protect the few people you manage to team up with.
Whilst I haven’t played many Telltale games (although I’ve watched someone play through most of the Sam & Max series) I still got the feeling that their titles had a distinctive style and The Walking Dead certainly fits in with that idea. Due to the extreme cross platform nature of The Walking Dead the graphics aren’t particularly great but the heavy use of comic-book stylization (I’ve seen people say its cel-shaded but I’m not entirely sure about that) means that it still works well. The animations and sound effects are somewhat rudimentary but this is made up in spades by the voice acting which I’ll touch on more later.
Whilst The Walking Dead is more like an interactive movie with game elements the core game mechanics are those of an adventure game coupled with a few modern innovations like quick time events to drive some of the more action oriented sections. If you’ve played other titles in the same genre like Heavy Rain then this style will be very familiar to you where the game play elements are there to serve as a break from the usually quite intense story sections. Of course decisions you make during these sections can also have an impact on how the story unfolds, something which The Walking Dead informs you of at the start of every episode.
Even for a modern adventure game the puzzles that are thrown at you are rather simplistic usually consisting of you tracking down a particular item or following the bouncing ball in order to progress to the next area. Some of the puzzles are also completely optional, as far as I could tell, as there were a couple times when I’d do things that didn’t seem to have any impact past the scene in question. For a game that is heavily focused on the story rather than the game play I can’t really fault it for this as hard puzzles usually only serve to break immersion and frustrate the player but if you were expecting The Longest Journey level brain ticklers than you’ll be disappointed.
What I was thankful for was the simplistic inventory system that shied away from having some form of combine or use one item with another item type mechanic that a lot of games like this have. Usually this just ends up in frustration as you try to find the right item combination in order to solve the problem, something that I’m not usually a fan of. Instead if you have an item that can interact with something in the world it’ll show up as an option taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Sure figuring something out can be fun and The Walking Dead certainly has some satisfying challenges but playing inventory item roulette isn’t one of them.
The Walking Dead is, for the most part, bug and glitch free however I had several occasions when the game broke on me in one way or another. Typically this took the form of the keyboard or mouse simply not responding during an interactive section, rendering me unable to progress any further until I reloaded. This wasn’t usually a problem but sometimes it did mean losing a bit of progress, forcing me to replay through a section. By far the worst bug was when a particular cut scene somehow managed to double itself up with all the characters saying their lines twice over the top of each other and the animations attempting to do the same. Personally I’d put this down to the multi-platform release which means that the amount of time that Telltale could spend on QAing each platform was reduced significantly. In all honesty though I thought most of these bugs would be ironed out given the time since the initial release.
Realistically though you wouldn’t be playing this game for the game mechanics, you’ll be playing it for the story. The Walking Dead tells you in no uncertain terms that the choices you make will affect the outcome of the game and that’s 100% true. Depending on the choices you make certain characters may or may not be alive, people might react to you differently or you might end up in a situation that you didn’t expect to find yourself in. At the end of each episode you’ll also be greeted with a statistic screen which shows how your choices lined up with the greater community and the results can be rather surprising at times.
What really got me initially were the small decisions that I’d make in the heat of the moment having drastic repercussions later on, sometimes right after doing so. Traditionally your choices in these kinds of games were almost irrelevant due to the complexity of creating multiple story arcs that have some level of coherency. The Walking Dead still has decisions like that at times during the game but it’s hard to know which one is which before you make it. I can’t tell you the number of times that I found myself wanting to go back and change something because the result wasn’t what I had expected but since there’s no quick save/load function (a deliberate omission) there’s really no way to do it unless you want to play the whole episode over again. Even then you might not be able to shape the story in the way you want.
I also want to give a lot of credit to the voice acting as it’s not easy to make something fully voice acted and have it come out as well as it has in The Walking Dead. Whilst there can be some strange fluctuations in tone should you choose different types of responses (Lee usually has passive, neutral and aggressive options) the sound bites themselves are well spoken and full of emotion which is probably one of the reasons I found it so easy to sympathize with the characters. There’s been quite a few games I’ve played recently that have been ruined by sub-par voice actors so The Walking Dead was a welcome change and one that I hope more game developers take note of.
The story was one of the great examples where I could hate everything that was happening but still felt a deep emotional connection to most of the characters. The relationship between Lee and Clem is a beautiful one and whilst I won’t spoil the ending anyone who’s been through it will tell you that it’s utterly heart breaking, to the point where I was just staring at the monitor, not wanting to accept what was happening. From what I can gather though this is what The Walking Dead franchise is all about and it does a damn good job of making you care for a lot of people before putting them through all sorts of hell, taking you along with them.
The Walking Dead is a great example of an episodic game done right as each of the sections stands well on its own but together they form something that is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The graphics are simple yet well executed, the voice acting superb and the story so engrossing that you’re likely to be thinking “what if” for a long time to come after you finish it. If you’re a fan of adventure games or The Walking Dead itself then there’s going to be a lot to love in this cinematic adventure game and I can recommend it enough.
The Walking Dead is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $24.99, $29.99, $29.99 and $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 100% of the achievements unlocked.
Us PC gamers are always slightly wary of ports. The reasoning behind it is twofold, primarily stemming from the fact that many ports are rush jobs, leaving us stuck with interfaces that were obviously designed for another platform and failing to take advantage of our PC hardware. It’s also partly due to our slight bruised pride from no longer being the platform any more and the issues with ports just seem to be yet another strike against us. Strangely enough though I’ve found ports from the portable market, mostly from iOS and Android, have actually been quite good with Galaxy on Fire 2 genuinely surprising me with how well it translated to the PC platform. Waking Mars is another title that found its fame on the mobile market and now, thanks to Steam’s Greenlight project, has found its way onto the PC.
Waking Mars is set in the not too distant future of 2093 where a team of scientists, including you playing as Liang, have been sent to investigate some of the caves that were discovered on Mars. You’re not going in blind however as some time before your team sent a robot, named OCTO (presumably because it had 8 legs), down to investigate and the pictures it sent back indicated there was life down there. However shortly after sending those pictures communications were lost and whilst his recovery wasn’t a prime directive it did necessitate the need to go down and investigate these life forms further and discover a whole new world that has been lurking underneath Mar’s surface for an eternity.
Unlike most of the adventure/puzzle/point and click adventures I review on here Waking Mars isn’t done in pixel art fashion. Rather its done in a hand drawn style, one that’s very familiar but I can’t place my finger on where I’ve seen it before. Whilst the animation is a bit wonky at times, for both your character and some of the NPCs in the world, it’s still quite passable. The colour palettes are also quite bright and varied which helps to make sure that you don’t get visual fatigue looking at the same sodden brown landscape for hours on end.
The core game of Waking Mars is a cross between exploration and puzzle solving. Primarily your aim is to increase the “biomass” of each section by making the various creatures and plants reproduce in the little section you’re currently in. Initially this just starts of with you planting seeds and watering them (which then makes them produce more seeds) but it grows into a complex puzzle of what you should plant where and managing the different types of soil in order to make sure you can produce the required amount of biomass. Once you reach the required level the door to the next level will open up, allowing you to dive deeper into the cave.
As far as puzzle mechanics go its pretty novel especially when you get further along when there are certain plants that will kill other plants which also spread voraciously if not kept under control. Each room obviously has an intended solution, one that if done properly will see you complete it with a minimum of fuss and waiting. This can be something of a blessing or a curse as early on you don’t have the right tools to undo your mistakes. Thankfully up until a certain point all the puzzles are designed to not block you until you get to a stage where you can generate any number of the right seeds you need, as shown below.
This particular level also demonstrates the potential for emergent game play mechanics that can be lovingly exploited should you have the time to do so. In this particular area I had what I called a Yellow Seed Reactor (the ones that can grow in the acidic ground) where regular green seeds seemed to collect. Also in the same area was a couple of those life forms that eat the green seeds to reproduce and since the seeds will keep coming as long as I don’t pick them up they had a near infinite supply of food with which to reproduce. In the same area there was also one of the acidic plants that reproduces when it eats one of those little things so whenever I needed a couple of those seeds I’d simply travel back there and wait.
Indeed the way I completed that level was by simply sitting there and watching the reactor in progress as there really is no limit to the amount of times those little buggers can reproduce. It can also backfire horribly on you as they run away when you get near them and the collision detection gets a bit wonky when there’s 100 of them together, usually resulting in a mass suicide that drops hundreds of biomass in a second. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was hilarious though because seeing them all explode out only to fall over and die is pretty bloody funny.
Past a certain point however the puzzles start to feel very samey as you’re just repeating the same motions over and over again. Once you’re in the big chamber you have pretty much unlimited access to all the seeds you need which makes most of the harder puzzles moot but at the same time it also means you’re forever trucking back and forth between locations in order to get the right materials ready in order to progress through. This might not have been as much of a problem if I was playing it on my smart phone since I’d only be playing it for 10~20 mins at a time (and its broken up perfectly for that) but sitting down and playing it for a couple hours means the repetition gets to you and doesn’t make for compelling game play.
The story is also semi-interesting although it feels like it was lacking any direction. Your motives seem to wander from investigation to getting back to base camp to investigating random signals at different points on the map, all without a clear sense of direction. There’s heaps of additional objectives to do but there’s no driving force, either in upgrades or in terms of the story, to push you to do them. Again this feels like an artefact of its mobile origins where it was designed to be picked up and played for a bit and then put down again until the next session.
Waking Mars is fun and novel, exploring an idea that all my fellow space nuts would love to be true. The core game mechanic is certainly refreshing after all the exploration/puzzler games I’ve played of late but after a while it starts to look all the same. The so-so story that has troubles with direction and pacing doesn’t help this either but that doesn’t stop Waking Mars from being a game that’s worth a look in. I’d probably recommend it on Android or iOS as it seems to be well designed for that and whilst it doesn’t translate badly to PC I still think you’d have a better time elsewhere.
Waking Mars is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $4.99, $4.99 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3 hours played and 47% of the achievements unlocked.
If there’s one thing that Wadjet Eye Games does well it’s sci-fi point and click adventure games. I can remember seeing the trailers for Gemini Rue and just getting swept up in it, loving the idea of revisiting a genre I hadn’t touched in the better part of a decade. Their next release (although not developed by them) in Resonance managed to continue the trend, invoking that same nostalgic feeling whilst also bringing some solid game play that reinvigorated the genre. When I was approached to preview Primordia (and subsequently given the chance to play it before it came out) I was beyond excited and today I bring you my first day 0 review of Wadjet Eye’s latest game.
Primordia is set in a post-apocalyptic future where you play as Horatio Nullbuilt, a robot who’s found himself stranded in the middle of a vast desert with a ship called the UNNIIC. It doesn’t seem like he’s particularly unhappy with his current situation, having spent his time salvaging the wrecks in the nearby vicinity to build his companion Crispin Horatiobuilt, but that’s all thrown into disarray when a strange robot forces its way into his ship and, after shooting Horatio, steals the central power core dooming Horatio and Crispin to die when their charge runs out. Of course this will not stand and this begins your quest to find your power supply and see the mysterious robot brought to justice.
Like all of Wadjet Eye’s previous titles Primordia is brought to you in brilliant pixel-art form bringing the great level of detail that we’ve come to expect from them. The colour palette is distinctly post-apocalyptic future, favouring muted shades of everything interspersed with bright neon glows every so often. Like Gemini Rue before it this really does convey a certain mood as even when other characters greet you cheerfully you can’t help but shake that feeling that something is still amiss, something fundamental. Coupled with every line being fully voiced acted Primordia is exactly what I had come to expect, a pretty good achievement to say the least.
The core of Primordia is your tired and true point and click adventure. Each screen is essentially a mini exploration game where you’ll spend countless minutes pouring over every detail, hovering your mouse over each section to see if it lights up with text that indicates you can interact with it. Unlike other games which make interactive parts obvious by highlighting them Primordia gives you no such luxury, instead forcing you to use your eyes and mouse in tandem to discover each and every interact-able part. For some this will be an exercise in frustration but for those of us who revel in this genre it’s all part of the fun, at least for the first 10 minutes or so on every screen.
Like all point and click adventures Primordia follows the traditional game sequence whereby you’re given free reign over a particular section, being able to walk/click/interact as much as you like, but in order to progress you must solve some kind of puzzle that’s blocking your way. This usually takes the form of finding out which items work with each other which can then be used on said blockade in order to progress further but there are also challenges that rely on you being able to decipher riddles and logic puzzles. Cleverly such puzzles aren’t brute forcible like they are in many similar titles, giving you a couple tries before you’re sent away in order to find another way to solve it.
What I really love about Primordia, and indeed any of the more modern point and click adventures, is the revamps of the inventory system that take away much of the tedium that was present in their ancestors. Primordia has your typical inventory, which can get rather cluttered towards the end, but it also includes a “datapack” which stores critical information that you glean from the environment and NPCs. Gone are the days when you had to rely on pen and paper or solely on your memory in order to figure out the solution to a puzzle which is an absolute godsend. It can also function as something of a red herring too, providing you with information that’s not relevant at all, which adds some challenge back in.
Another great improvement is the use of side kicks, in Primordia’s case Crispin, as hint machines that can help you get unstuck if you’ve been struggling with a particular puzzle. The clues aren’t always helpful, indeed many times asking Crispin what to do results in snide remarks or things I had already thought of, but there were many points where I found myself simply unable to think of new ideas. It was at this point that Crispin could jump start my brain again which I was really appreciative of given the lack of a walk through guide that would do the same.
I have to admit that the first half of my time spent with Primordia was one of frustration as there were many puzzles that I just simply couldn’t manage to figure out in a decent amount of time. Eventually I figured out that I just needed to take a break from it at this point and upon returning would usually be able to continue on. However towards the end something just clicked and all the challenges started to make sense. It might have been dumb luck, indeed there were some puzzles I solved by simply clicking the right item on the right place at the right time without even thinking about it, but I still feel that there’s a certain mindset you need to be in. Once you get it though Primordia becomes immensely more enjoyable.
Of course the main reason I play games like this is for their stories and Primordia does not disappoint. Things are slow going at the start, mostly because its just focusing on you and your companion, but the lore and back story of each character slowly builds around you until you get to a point where you realise you’re in the depths of something that’s far bigger than yourself. The way it morphs from a simple story of “get my power core back” to a full blown political conspiracy story really engaged me and the last 2 hours I spent with this game just seemed to fly by. I get the feeling there are alternate endings as well, meaning I don’t think I’ve explored every option yet, which means there’s even a bit of agency granted to the player. That’s pretty rare for this kind of game.
Primordia is a fantastic game and it was everything that I had come to expect from Wadjet Eye Games. The art work is great, the characters vibrant and believable and the puzzles, whilst frustrating at times, are incredibly satisfying when you manage to complete them without any outside help. I could really go on but the fact is that you’d be much better off just playing it as the story is what makes this game so enjoyable and I’d rather not spoil it for you here.
Primordia is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 6 hours.
Taking a fresh approach to a long running genre is no easy task, especially in something as well established as the point and click adventure. I’m something of a fan of this particular genre (mostly because I grew up on them) having reviewed 4 titles in this particular category in this year alone. McPixel then, whilst fitting the basic requirements to be called a point and click adventure, feels like its in a category in all of its own thanks to its rapid place and numerous and often quite hilarious ways you can fail a particular section. Suffice to say that McPixel isn’t your run of the mill indie game.
You are McPixel, a slightly overweight man who’s given the job of saving the day in dozens of situations, all of which involve a bomb of some sort that will explode in less than 20 seconds. You’ll visit all sorts of environments ranging from the mundane like shopping centres and people’s houses to the fantastical, including choice locations such as a giant butterfly and various spacecraft. There are no second chances in McPixel either and should you click the wrong thing at the wrong time or in the wrong order you’ll find your surroundings blown to pieces and you’ll have to restart from the beginning again.
McPixel’s pixel art graphics are pretty rudimentary but I feel that’s part of the appeal. Whilst there’s been many games that show just how much you can do with pixel art style graphics McPixel’s are far more reminiscent of those which I grew up on and the ones that my friends and I tried fruitlessly to replicate within MSPaint. The crudeness just adds to the hilarity when McPixel does something that you can’t represent that well with such a simplistic medium and he ends up doing something that you can recognize but also get horribly confused by at the same time.
McPixel’s game play takes the form of a pretty simple puzzler in which you have to find the right way to defuse (or nullify in some way) a bomb that’s set to go off in 20 seconds. There’s only one “right” way to do this and whilst some times it will be the obvious answer like stepping on the fuse most of the time it will be some completely unintuitive answer that either involves you thinking in a decidedly random fashion or happening the solution by complete accident. Should you get the solution wrong you’ll be exploded in a blaze of glory and moved onto the next puzzle. You’ll come back around to it eventually which requires you to flex those memory muscles in order to not make the same mistake twice.
The bomb locations aren’t always obvious and it’s more than likely that you’ll spend a couple tries on particular puzzles just figuring out where the bomb is and which of the solutions doesn’t work as intended. This is part of the fun though as the non-working solutions usually fail in some hilarious and incomprehensible way, leaving the area around you devastated (although McPixel is usually fine, strangely enough). These jokes are actually part of the game play as once you find all of them in a particular section you’ll unlock yet another section that you can play through.
Should you manage to successfully solve 3 puzzles in a row you’ll be treated to a bonus round which apparently takes place inside a Nyan Cow. I believe the bonus round is the same puzzle every time (from what I can recall it was the same in the 2 times I managed to get it) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the solution was. Considering that most of the later puzzles took me a couple tries just to understand fully what was going on it’s not surprising that I didn’t manage to solve it, especially considering how bizzare it was.
The weird randomness that’s woven throughout McPixel’s many jokes is where all the fun comes from. I can’t tell you how many times I went to do something that I was pretty sure of what the outcome would be only to be hilariously surprised by the result. The humour isn’t for everyone, especially for those that find crude/rude humour boring or unfunny, but I definitely found a lot to like in the 100+ panels that I played through. There were many, many sections that had me laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, even towards the end when you’d think the jokes would start to get stale (they don’t, so long as you heed the warning at the start of the game).
It’s also a pretty bug free experience as I didn’t encounter any crashes or game breaking bugs. There was one particular section where things got a bit weird however which I haven’t been able to find out if anyone has had the same issue. In the elevator selection section you can choose from one of three sections by clicking on the elevator buttons. However when you hover over them, which you do to find out if you’ve beaten/played a section previously, it’ doesn’t line up with the sections you’ve actually played through. Hovering over the top button actually shows the “Locked” icon for the bonus section (which is actually the button to the right) but clicking on it will take you to the appropriate section. Nothing major and it was pretty easy to figure out but it seems like it would be a relatively easy fix.
McPixel is one of those little indie gems that comes along every so often that fails to comply to genre specific notions and is simply fun to play. The random, sometimes rude and crude humour was what made McPixel fun to play. This, coupled with the rapid pace and bite sized nature of all the puzzles, makes for a game that’s great just to pick up and play through a section whenever you’re feeling bored or want a break from whatever you’re doing. Considering that its now available on Android/iOS this means you can take it with you wherever you want and you can be assured that you’ll still be playing it for a long time to come thanks to the built in level editor.
McPixel is available on PC, Android and iOS right now for $4.99, $2.99 and $2.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 1.5 hours of total game time.
I’ve definitely developed a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games over the past year or so. Whilst I skipped their last 2 releases (Blackwell Deception and Da New Guys) because they didn’t really tickle my fancy their other title, Gemini Rue, has ensured that I’ve kept a close on everything that they release. It was a couple months ago now I got an email from them about their upcoming game Resonance another sci-fi point and click adventure that caught my attention in much the same way Gemini Rue did. That combined with the few reviews I allowed myself to tentatively read was enough to sell me on the title, and many others it seems.
Resonance takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, being set around the same time. Throughout the game you will take control of one of 4 main characters: a scientist working with a brilliant professor on a new technology, a doctor who said scientist meets on the subway, a slightly renegade cop out to find the truth and a blogger (sorry reporter) who’s on the hunt for his next major story. When an explosion destroys the lab that the scientist is working for and mortally wounds his professor friend all 4 of their individual story threads come together as they try to find out the truth behind the accident.
It’s strange to think that this game has been in development for 5 years as at the time (we’re talking 2007) the idea of making a pixel art homage to the old adventure game genre would seem like a fool’s gambit. However Resonance has instead found itself quite at home with the current renaissance of pixel art titles that eschew modern graphics for a more nostalgic experience. Like many other pixel art games Resonance does not use a modern game engine as a basis, meaning that modern overlay effects like we’ve seen in titles like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery and Lone Survivor aren’t present. Resonance does well without them however and if you’re a fan of the genuine old school adventure then their omission will be a boon rather than a bother.
Resonance starts off with you choosing your own path through the opening scenes of each of the main characters. This helps to provide some of the back story for all the main characters as well as serving as the tutorial for the main mechanics of the game. There’s really no denying that Resonance starts off quite slow in terms of story progression and I found myself putting it down just after I had completed this first section and leaving it for a day. The good news is that after that the story picks up pace quite dramatically and for the rest of my time with Resonance I didn’t stop until I got right to the end.
I can attribute much of this to the near seamless experience that Resonance presents. For most adventure games, especially ones that do not appear to be using modern game engines, the interfaces are usually clunky, the puzzles radically unintuitive and there’s usually a whole lot of back tracking through countless scenes to get that 1 item that you should have picked up but forgot to at the right time. Now Resonance isn’t completely innocent in this regard (something I’ll touch on a bit later) but overall the level of polish in the adventure game experience is incredibly high, rivaling that of its other Wadjet Eye titles. Considering its production time this is somewhat to be expected but we’ve all seen other titles where the same amount of development time leads to horrible things.
The inventory system is unique to Resonance featuring 3 distinct categories of items and information that you will use throughout your journey. The first is your Long Term Memory which basically functions as a replay device for key scenes that you’ll need to reference at a later date and is automatically populated for you. Short term memory on the other hand is populated directly by you by dragging items of interest into them which can then be used in conversations later on. The final section is just your regular inventory, holding all the items you’ll need to solve puzzles and further the story.
It’s a simple system on the surface but the kinds of puzzles it can create can be rather complicated. For the most part the things you have to talk to the NPCs about are usually in the room with you but there are several times when you need to mention something to someone and the only way to do it will be by dragging something into STM then travelling to them. Thankfully this isn’t often and I can only remember 2 times when I had to do some back tracking in order to progress further. Indeed the amount of back tracking required for the entire game was very minimal, something that definitely added much of my enjoyment to this game.
Unlike most other adventure games you can actually end up killing characters or stuffing up the game in a way which would make it impossible to finish it. Thankfully instead of making you reload your save game in order to fix the problem Resonance instead uses a Braid-esque technique of rewinding back time to a point just before the point where you failed, allowing you to retry the puzzle/section. This is by far the best solution I’ve seen to issues like this as whilst you can save whenever you want reloading a game, especially if you’re stuck at one section, breaks immersion completely. This rewind mechanic is a much better solution and definitely kept me playing much longer than having to reload saves would have.
The puzzles are, for the most part, quite intuitive if you grew up on these kinds of titles. Like all adventure games Resonance has its own way of doing things and this does cause some frustration initially as you struggle with rudimentary puzzles until you realize you’ve been approaching it the wrong way. I’ll admit that a couple of the puzzles completely stumped me at the time and had me reaching for a walkthrough guide to get me over that hump. I only did that a couple times however as for the most part the puzzles can be worked out with a little creative thinking (and possibly getting a coffee to take your mind off it for 5 minutes). My only quibble would be with the mouse based problems as Resonance’s mouse support seems to be a little iffy and can lead to some frustration when trying to complete some puzzles (the pad wiring one comes to mind).
Games like Resonance often rely heavily on the story to provide the majority of entertainment value and, whilst it doesn’t disappoint in that department, I found the game play of Resonance quite enjoyable. Indeed after the first hour which felt like a bit of a struggle I never once asked myself why I was playing this or thought to myself that I was just playing this for the review. The combination of polished interface and challenging puzzles is more than enough to carry this game along for its 6 hour duration. Of course the story doesn’t disappoint either, but there are some issues with it that bear mentioning.
Whilst the motivations of all the characters are quite clear, since you’re playing as them, there comes a point in the story where one of the characters radically changes their motivations. This is to serve as a turning point in the story (and is the basis of the major twist) however since you’ve played said character from the start, ostensibly since the point where they had said motivations, you would think there were some clues as to what they was up to. There were none however and the whole scene serves to open up several other plot holes that remain unanswered. It’s the same problem that plagued Heavy Rain and now, with my rose colored glasses firmly placed on the table, I can understand everyone’s frustration. Taken as a whole the story still works but they could have done a better job with the twist so it didn’t riddle the rest of the story with holes.
Resonance really was a joy to play, effortlessly capturing that nostalgic feeling of playing through its pixel art predecessors almost 2 decades ago. It feels strange for me to say that it was the game play that carried this game rather than its story as with games like this that’s never been the case, for me at least. It’s no surprise then that it has garnered very favorable reviews from everyone that’s played it and I’m glad that I can count myself among them. It might not be a flawless experience but Resonance gets all the fundamentals right resulting in an exceptional game that adventure fans will love and us nostalgic nerds will gush over for some time to come.
Resonace from Wadjet Eye Games is available on PC right now for $9.99. Game was completed with around 6 hours of total playtime, score of approximately 300 and 63% of the achievements unlocked.